Supporting Mind, Body & Spirit
In The Grieving Brain, Mary-Frances O’Connor explains to us the physiological response to grief. I share this with you in hopes that this normalizes your experience, and give you hope for healing.
Think of your brain as a conductor of sorts, with virtual maps inside the brain, which have on them all of your loved ones. You know, more or less, where you can find your loved ones, based on lived experiences, at any given time. If your partner or friend is at work during the day, your brain can “place” them there, and you are comfortable knowing this truth. There are actual neural pathways in your brain that have been mapped, that allow you to rest comfortably knowing where your social connections are throughout the day and night.
When a loved one dies, the brain is faced with the problem of “knowing” the person is not here, and yet, based on lived experience and the maps in place over the lifetime, it is working with the neural pathways that has your loved one encoded in the here and now. The brain cannot reconcile that your person is not "here". This becomes a very painful problem for the brain to solve, and is confusing and upsetting. And it takes the process of new experiences without your loved one, for the brain to begin to make a new map.
The impact of the stress of your loved one’s death will result in an impact on your body.
The mind and body are intricately connected. Stress is inevitable, and with it comes inflammation as a result of the cortisol response. The shock to the mind translates to “danger” to the body, and our cortisol levels are immediately impacted.
It is paramount that at this time you fuel your body with the cleanest foods possible, avoid sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.
Drink as much water as you can, . Eat small, healthy snacks throughout the day if you cannot eat a meal. Rest when you can.
Your sleep will likely be disturbed. Your brain is trying to solve the problem of a loved one not being in this dimension and you will consciously or not, be working to answer your own questions.
One of the most important things you can do for you right now is breathing. Big, long deep breaths, that go into the diaphragm, filling your abdomen. Regulating our breathing is one way of telling the brain that it is safe. Practice deep breathing now. Inhale to the count of 4, hold for 4. Exhale to the count of 4. Hold for 4. Repeat.
Below are some links to deep breathing, vagus nerve exercises and gentle yoga.
Whether you consider yourself spiritual, religious or none of the above, the essence of who you are will undoubtedly be in need of care and attention. If you have a spiritual community, lean on them. If you practice mediation, yoga or affirmations, try to do this now, even for just a few minutes. Going into nature is a beautiful, restorative way to connect to peace, so I always suggest finding a spot in the woods or under a tree and just connecting to nature as a way to find peace and healing.